Mom & Pop Culture: Viral Videos

When I was growing up, my folks took home movies of us to remember fun events like birthday parties and holidays. It took effort to record the video, file away the cassette, and then bring it back out to watch at a later point. If you wanted to share your home videos with friends, you either needed to somehow make them a copy, or bribe them to come over with home-cooked treats before you sprung the videos on them.

Today? It’s all different. Parents are uploading clips of their kids to sites like YouTube and Vimeo at astronomical rates. Many of these videos have gone viral. We’ve all seen ones where a kid is rambling on nonsensically after being looped up on medicine from the dentist, or the one where a kid lip syncs to the hottest pop song of the moment. Many of these are cute, many are (in my opinion) annoying, and others just cause me to shake my head and ask, “What the hell were you thinking?”

The popularity of some of these viral videos leads some folks to intentionally create situations where they might get some hits. A friend posted a link to a Jimmy Kimmel clip that included a bunch of videos of parents pretending to eat their children’s Halloween candy. The result? Mostly unfunny, at least to me. The parents purposefully made their kids cry, filmed the entire thing (while laughing), and sent it in to be aired on a national television show.

Other TV shows, like Ellen, showcase the stars of musically minded viral videos so these kids have a shot at… what? Stardom? While I appreciate the desire to share talent (trust me, I do. I absolutely loved the father & daughter who performed Edward Sharpe’s “Home”) it only spurs thousands of other (less talented) videos that get mercilessly mocked by others.

Yes, the Internet makes it much easier to share our children’s most epically embarrassing and adorable moments, but it also functions as an archive for all of them. Even if you change your mind and delete a video, there is still the chance that it is out there, waiting to pop back up later in life. I wonder what will happen in five, ten, or fifteen years, when a lot of the “stars” of these kid-centric viral videos grow up. Will they simply roll their eyes, akin to an overeager mother showing off baby pictures of her precious teenager? Will they be horribly embarrassed that their parents shared awkward and potentially humiliating video clips of them with the world? Or will they love the fact that they had their few seconds of Internet infamy, and treat it as a nostalgic rite of passage?

We’re (not so) slowly creating a new social contract where oversharing has become de rigueur. Blame it on the popularity of reality TV or the easy access the Internet provides—either way, we’re currently at a place where a video of a mom intentionally terrifying her young son while he belts out Britney Spears has over 10 million hits on YouTube.

screen shot of the YouTube video--a young white boy with blond hair is dancing alone in his room

And I haven’t even touched on the videos where toddlers are shown singing and dancing in a sexualized manner as they mimic Beyoncé or Lady Gaga…

I guess my question with all of this is… How much is too much? How far is too far? What sort of cultural precedent is being set by (potentially) exploiting children for a few laughs? As parents watch other kids shoot into the celebrity sphere, and wish that for their own family, to what lengths will they go for viral notoriety?

*10 points for anyone who knows where my “Top That!” reference comes from.

Previously: Gender is NOT a Genre, The Reality of Reality TV Parenting

by Avital Norman Nathman
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Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer and fulltime feminist killjoy. Find her tweeting @TheMamafesto

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12 Comments Have Been Posted

Top That!

Ah, Teen Witch.


It was one of my guilty pleasure movies growing up. Even as a kid I knew it had cheeze running through its veins but I just couldn't stop watching whenever I'd stumble across it. SO many good lines to quote!

Top That

Teen Witch. The most awesome horrible movie of all time.

Oh god, that Jimmy Kimmel

Oh god, that Jimmy Kimmel disaster...that left me so cold. I can understand setting it up and telling your kid (almost). I think the parent's were expecting a really angry reaction which was apparently "funny". But when your kid flat out bawls? You set down the damn video camera and apologize for being an ass, not send it into a TV show! Ugh. I dated a guy in hs whose family had a similar sense of "humor" and I was often horrified by their idea of joke.

so, you have no right to be

so, you have no right to be deciding the gender of the child in that video. i looked like that when i was a kid (and i fucken sang along with britney too). and i dare you to tell me that seems like a household where the child is free to express their gender when they get mocked for singing along with a woman. if you want a better representation of women in the media, you can at least start by not pretending women like me don't exist.

(honestly, my mom and dad had a similar thing going on where they mocked me at times... and yeah, it's just thoroughly fucked up, insensitive and intolerable)

Good point but

That is a great point, cvn, we shouldn't decide any kid's gender for them. However, the YouTube video in question here is called "Kid singing Britney Spears scared to death by his mom," so the information Avi had to go on suggested that he identifies as male (and I don't see anything that indicates otherwise).

As far as the freedom to express him/herself the child experiences at home, we don't have any information about that so we probably shouldn't speculate either way.

So it's Jimmy Kimmel's fault

So it's Jimmy Kimmel's fault some of the parents gave their boys "girl toys" and their girls "boy toys"? Jimmy Kimmel asked parents to give their kids "terrible" christmas presents, he didn't ask them to give their boys "girl toys" and their girls "boy toys." I understand completely where you are coming from, but Jimmy Kimmel isn't who is to blame.

Playing Devil's Advocate

Okay, I have to say that while the Christmas present version was really quite sick on a number of levels, I got a kick out of the Halloween candy prank, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, my parents probably WOULD have done this to my brother and I (or at least Dad would have) for giggles. My dad & uncle are twins, and they were always pulling this type of stuff on my cousin and us (I think their twin-ness makes them more prone to teaming up to complete practical jokes, in spite of being separated by almost 800 miles). So I really recognized the events and was amused by feeling a small amount of camaraderie with a few of the kids going through this--I've been there!

I also liked the video because there were incidences in the series of clips that really brought home, for me, the incredible level of entitlement of so many kids. It deeply disturbed me that the one kid responded to his lack of Halloween candy by going into an extreme rage and HITTING something IMMEDIATELY. WTF!?!? Get that kid some help. Seriously. Candy isn't worth that type of a response. I knew it at six as well as I did at sixteen. It made me uncomfortable to watch a couple of the responses, but I was grateful for being raised in such a way that I wasn't near as much of a brat as a bunch of those kids were.

That's not to say I wouldn't have been upset--I probably would have busted into tears or else I would have been the kids rationalizing with Mom & Dad ("YOU SNEAKY MOM!" just about made me fall over laughing, because I could completely see my brother saying that to my parents if they pulled this on us). Actually, I identified most with the last pair of boys because that sort of rationalization from the older brother would have been a very typical response for me at his age.

For example--when I was about 10 years old, I had a strong proclivity to steal socks from my mom and anywhere else I could find them in the house (out of the dryer was really popular for me). You know what I got that Christmas? Socks. In every single box I opened. Socks on top of socks on top of socks. Even Santa brought me socks. My family was in stitches. It was only after I opened EVERY SINGLE BOX that they finally revealed my REAL presents (props to Mom & Dad, in retrospect, for having the patience to wrap TWICE as many presents for me that year!).

And once we got old enough (it started for me on my eighth birthday), we almost always had to "work" for our "cool present," answering riddles and going on scavenger hunts for the present we wanted most. It was fun, in retrospect, but it was also frustrating when I had a feeling I was about to get something awesome but Mom & Dad were making me THINK in order to get it. I was never disappointed by the present I had to work for.

You know what these types of games taught us? My family, while seeming to be kind of cruel, were actually teaching us that there's a lot more to life than candy and Christmas presents. We learned how to handle stress and things that seemed "unfair" at the time. And when I opened all those socks that Christmas, I learned what a pain in the ass I was being about stealing socks (I'm still somewhat infamous in my family for that incident).

There is an age at which a kid is too young to have this prank pulled, as you noted. But after about 3 or 4 years old, they get the idea of deception, and I don't remember ever feeling bewildered by my relatives' pranks. And in some circumstances, a couple pranks like the Halloween incident could be just the experience that he or she needs to wean them off the consumerist crap that saturates this messed up society of ours.

You know what your parents

You know what your parents didn't do? Send videos of your reactions to be aired on national television, or posted for the entire world to see and laugh at. Which is kind of what this post was about in the first place.

Um, America's Funniest Home

Um, America's Funniest Home Videos, anyone? This is nothing new. Ever since we had video cameras that were affordable, parents have been videotaping their kids. Then America's Funniest Home Videos came along, and there have been numerous clips of kids doing funny things, us laughing at them being silly or funny, pranks being played on them, etc.

"For example--when I was

"For example--when I was about 10 years old, I had a strong proclivity to steal socks from my mom and anywhere else I could find them in the house (out of the dryer was really popular for me). You know what I got that Christmas? Socks. In every single box I opened. Socks on top of socks on top of socks. Even Santa brought me socks. My family was in stitches. It was only after I opened EVERY SINGLE BOX that they finally revealed my REAL presents (props to Mom & Dad, in retrospect, for having the patience to wrap TWICE as many presents for me that year!)."

That is one of the funniest things I've read all week! Your parents have such a great sense of humor. I have to ask, why did you steal socks when you were 10?

and OMG we've always had the hunting game for our big presents! At least one of the three of us had to hunt for our presents every year, whether it be Christmas or our birthday. And, we also got joke gifts as well. Granted, my parents didn't videotape it (as they could not afford one, this was the late-80s, early-90s), but they so would have if they could have.

My family teases so much, but it's all in good fun. We all make fun of each other for our quirks or weaknesses, like my brother who is a womanizer, I poke fun at him at being 80 and still hitting on 20-year-olds, and my brother makes fun of me and says that I'm the mailman's daughter (we look nothing alike). And we've been making fun of each other for 20 years.

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